Series: Vikings

"Your death is on its way."

Vikings is a medieval drama series airing on The History Channel. It follows Norse farmer come warrior Ragnar Lodbrok's efforts to improve the lives of his people and become a celebrated hero. The show follows existing sagas of Ragnar Sigurdsson, a legendary Norse figure. Much like the Icelandic sagas from which it is adapted, Vikings is an exploration of human conflicts set against the backdrop of a grim, violent, yet proud society.

Ragnar Lodbrok is presented as an ambitious man of humble origins who is dissatisfied with the established Norse practices of tending poor homesteads and raiding bankrupt villages to the east. Instead he looks west, dreaming of the riches and glory that await anyone brave enough to sail the open sea. Ragnar's plans of conquest and discovery bring him into a variety of deadly conflicts and introduce him to new cultures that challenge the foundations of his society.

This series features examples of:

  • A Love to Dismember: Jarl Borg not only listens to the advice of his beloved first wife's skull, he also lovingly strokes it. At one point, he gives it a somewhat one-sided French kiss.
  • Action Girl:
    • Ragnar's wife Lagertha is a shieldmaiden who occasionally accompanies men on their raids. She's saved Ragnar's life in the past, but he's still protective of her.
    • Ragnar takes a few unnamed shieldmaidens along with him on several of his raids on England.
    • The handmaidens of Aslaug.
    • Horik's wife, Gunnhild, is a shieldmaiden as well.
    • After gaining her freedom, Thorunn trains as a shieldmaiden and fights in raids beside Bjorn.
  • Action Mom:
    • Lagertha is a shieldmaiden as well as a mother of two.
    • The shieldmaiden wife and queen of Horik, Gunnhild.
  • Action Prologue:
    • The first scene of the show involves Ragnar and Rollo kicking ass on a battlefield.
    • The second season opens up with a massive battle between the hoards of King Horik and Jarl Borg.
  • Adipose Rex: King Aelle is a mountain of a man who is often seen feasting.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: Bjorn takes it upon himself to keep his parents from fighting.
    Ragnar: It's a great thing, when the little pig teaches a boar how to listen.
  • Adult Fear
    • Earl Haraldson's backstory. His sons were brutally murdered, leaving him a shell of a man.
    • Both Lagertha's and Siggy's daughters sicken and die of a fever.
    • Ragnar comes back to Kattegat to find his daughter and several of his friends dead, rumors of his infidelity have already spread from Gotaland causing his marriage to slowly fray apart, and his wife leaving him and taking their son.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • Some viewers are sceptical to the tattooed Vikings such as Rollo and the eye make-up worn by Floki. These features are actually described by Arabian merchants in contact with Vikings.
    • Some people find the Vikings' relative lack of metal armour to be hard to believe, but archaeology suggests that the average Viking was indeed not heavily armored. Only few metal helmets or chainmail from the Viking Age have ever been found in Scandinavia. Only Huskarls and Thegns were thought to be heavily armoured regularly.
    • The prominent and odd-looking Viking hairstyle in which the back half of the head is shaved is based on historical record.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin:
    • The Vikings see Athelstan's celibacy as bizarre.
    • King Horik doesn't consider his son a man until he's had sex with an "experienced" woman, ie Siggy.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Ragnar, Floki, Athelstan, Ecbert, Aslaug, Lagertha...
  • Amicable Exes: Ragnar and Lagertha in the second season. They're shown to be still very friendly with one another, and Lagertha is shown to frequently back up her ex-husband when he's in conflict with someone else
  • Anglo-Saxons: The Vikings are the main protagonists of the show, but their discovery of England and subsequent conflicts with the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants form a major plot point.
  • Annoying Arrows: Ragnar is shot in the shoulder with an arrow that penetrates all the way through when Haraldson attacks his home, but he's still able to fight his way out of a few tight jams before collapsing from his various wounds. Other characters not protected by Plot Armor are felled by arrows, however.
  • Anti-Hero: Ragnar and his troupe are pillaging murderers, but they're the heroes of this story.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil:
    • Earl Haraldson is a petty despot who dominates and persecutes his people.
    • King Aelle betrays his own brother and punishes failure with torturous executions.
    • Jarl Borg is a deceitful snake who sows dissension and betrayal amongst his enemies.
  • Anyone Can Die: By the end of Season 2, a few Historical Domain Characters who, in the actual stories, would have survived far longer than they did have been killed. Entirely fictional yet beloved side characters also drop like flies.
  • Armor Is Useless: The Vikings have no problem hacking through armored English soldiers, usually while wearing no armor themselves. Ragnar wears a coat of ring armor for his duel with the Earl, and the only wound he receives is a slash that goes right through the coat.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • The Earl marries his daughter to an old Swedish Earl for 20lbs of silver. Earlier, he offers her hand to Rollo as payment for a favor.
    • In order to seal their alliance and aid in the unification of England, King Ecbert marries his son to King Aelle's daughter.
    • Horik proposes doing this between his daughters and Ragnar's sons. It doesn't take since Ragnar has all of Horik's daughters killed when the king attempts to take over Kattegut.
  • Artificial Limbs: Count Odo has a metal hand. As the commander of Paris's defenses, he apparently lost his hand in battle.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Where do we begin...
    • Judging by the fjords, Kattegat (which is the Dutch name for the sea betwheen Norway, Denmark and Sweden) is located in Norway. This is supported by that they can travel by foot to Uppsala, which would be easier than travel around entire Scandinavia by boat. But apparently you can travel there by horseback from Hebeby. Hedeby was located in southern Denmark/northern Saxony, and is separated from major Scandinavia by the sea. Still Horik travels by sea from Denmark to Kattegat.
    • Uppsala is shown as being located in the mountains as opposed to the actual rather flat farmlands and woodlands.
  • Artistic License – History: This show is based on legendary sagas set during the single murkiest period of Medieval history, so liberties with historicity are to be expected.
    • Ragnar and Rollo are not usually thought to be brothers. The real Ragnar is much more Shrouded in Myth (like King Arthur for instance) while the real Rollo is attested as the first ruler of Normandy (and a direct ancestor of King William the Conqueror and Queen Elizabeth II).
    • The name "Lodbrok" is sometimes used for Rollo also, but it was not a surname - rather, a nickname for Ragnar meaning "Hairy Breeches", since his pants were made of fur. The Vikings had no concept of surnames and used patronymics (naming after one's father) instead. Ragnar's actual second name "Sigurdsson" has yet to appear on the show.
    • "Rollo" itself is the Latinized form of the Norse "Hrólfr", the modern form being "Rolf". Similarly, "Lagertha" is a Latinized form of the Norse "Hlađgerđr" or "Hladgerd"..
    • The attack on Lindisfarne happened in 793, Ragnar Lothbrok was presumably killed in the 860s. While not totally impossible, especially since the dates concerning him are not very precise, it is highly unlikely that he lead the attack on Lindisfarne, or was even born at this point.
    • Likewise Rollo as well as King Horik are around way too early. Rollo's birth year is tentatively given as 846, Horic became king around 813 and sole king of the Danes in 827.
    • The presentation of Norse law: Haraldson is shown prosecuting a man for murder. In actuality, that would have fallen to the deceased next of kin.
    • Women are shown casting votes in Norse society. While it may be true that Norse women enjoyed better position than that of mainland European women, the Norse weren't quite this progressive. Voting would be cast in the name of the whole household.
    • Vikings didn't practice capital punishment as such. Rather, those convicted of heinous crimes were declared outlaws; which is to say, they are literally outside the protection of the law, and may be killed with impunity.
    • It is said that Horik's father was killed by his brothers and that he ascended to his throne by defeating them. In history, Horik's father, King Gudfred was killed by a housekarl. After that, Horik's uncle Hemming (a cousin of his father) took the throne but did not last long. Then, Horik drove out Harald Klak and thus became sole king of Denmark as he was the only son of King Gudfred alive.
    • Earl Haraldson mentions Russia. Russia did not yet exist in the 8th century. As a matter of fact, it was being founded by a confederation of Eastern Slavic tribes led by a Swedish subset of the Vikings, the Rusnote . Thus, "Russia".
    • King Ecbert already being a famous king when the Vikings raid Wessex around 800 AD, when in reality he just assumed the crown at best. His characterization on the other hand, is accurate. He did actually try to become Brytenwalda, at least.
    • Ecbert briefly notes a wife is the husband's property and the husband is free to do to her what she likes. This was not the case in Anglo-Saxon culture, which held women very highly for its time and as equal companions to men. The attitude of "a woman is a man's property" would only become a part of Anglo-Saxon culture in the Norman Conquest and beyond.
    • Characters make several references to "Charlemagne," but this is a French version of his name ("Karl, der Große" or in English "Charles the Great") popularized after the Norman invasion of England. It's used here so that modern viewers can recognize the famous figure.
    • Aethulwulf of Wessex never married a daughter of King Aelle. He did marry a woman named Judith, but she was the daughter of the Frankish King Charles the Bald, and she didn't bear him any sons because he died shortly after.
    • When Aelle and Ecbert join forces, the gathered Saxons begin chanting, 'God save England!'. In truth, the concept of a united country called England wouldn't emerge until some time after the period this show is set. That being said, would have you have preferred them to chant, "God save the Heptarchy except for the Kentish! Bloody Kentish..."?
    • Horik I did not die at the hand of Ragnar Lothbrok. But then, they also might have been the same guy so...
    • Some of the Vikings' clothing and gear is not appropriate to the period. For example, Ragnar's signature chainmail is very form fitting, when the actual Viking mail was always quite loose.
    • Habard mentions in a conversation with Aslaug that one of his bastard sons became Olaf, Grand Duke of Kyiv. Not only is there no such figure amongst the Ruthenian princes (there is a prince after Rorik called Oleg, but the Norse rendering of his name is Helgi), but Kiev Rus wasn't anywhere close to being created in the early eighth century. On the other hand, Ragnar is reported to have lived in the mid 9th century, when Kiev Rus was being formed, so this may just be another example of the show fast-forwarding history.
    • King Ecbert never slaughtered an entire village of Pagans for no reason. Though this is probably more due to the fact that there weren't any Pagan villages in England during his reign. The settling of Danish and Norwegian pagans on English soil wouldn't begin until the 860s with the Danleagh, or Danelaw. King Athelred the Unready, another king of Wessex, actually did do exactly this in real life as a means of rebelling against the Danes. It didn't work out well for him.
    • The Siege of Paris as presented in the show is a fusion of The Siege of Paris of 845, the only fully historical appearance of a Viking chief named Ragnar, from which the show takes the King being Charlemagne's grandson and Ragnar Lothbrok's presence, and the Siege of Paris of 885 from which the show takes the presence of Rollo, the figures of Count Odo, Sinric and Sigfred and the overall set up of the battle.
    • And the boots the Vikings wear are completely ahistorical.
    • Shieldmaidens are depicted as commonplace among the Norse, with most Viking war parties featuring at least a few female warriors who are accepted without question by the men. While shieldmaidens are present in Norse sagas, there's little evidence to suggest that they were commonplace, or even existed, in reality.
    • A lot of Norsemen seem to have no trouble with letting their wives getting on top of them during sex, while in history it was considered something of a taboo. A man who allowed such a thing to happen was reckoned by other Norsemen to be unmanly and submissive. The show portrays it with modern sensibilities in mind. When Lagertha gets on top of Ragnar during one of their sex scenes, she compares him to "a wild bull," with no connotations of submission.
    • The Oriflamme was never used by the Franks. It's first use was by the medieval French Kingdom during the 12th century.
  • As the Good Book Says: Athelstan is very attached to his Bible and has quoted it. Ragnar does a pagan variation by citing a poem that is attributed to Odin in Norse Mythology.
  • As You Know:
    • Jarl Borg notes to his fellow Norsemen that Yggdrasil is the tree that holds up the heavens.
    • In Universe, Harbard's tale of his journey to Utgard is a well-known story of Thor adventuring in Jotunheim, as Aslaug is quick to point out.
    • Subverted with Athelstan. Ragnar has to tell Athelstan that he tends to speak of "Saints" and "Miracles" as if Ragnar had any idea of what he is talking about.
    • Averted in an argument taking place on the first voyage to England, where Floki and another character agree that that lightning is the sparks coming off Thor's anvil as he beats it with his hammer are an omen, but disagree about how to interpret it.
  • Attempted Rape: Lagertha 5:0 Wannabe Rapists
  • Autobots, Rock Out!: Electric guitar is occasionally heard in the soundtrack during tense or action-packed parts. The early advertisements made good use of AWOLNATION's "Sail."
  • An Ax To Grind: Many Vikings favor axes in combat.
  • Badass Family:
    • Ragnar's family. That is all.
    • King Ecbert and his son, Prince Aethelwulf, count as well. They are both capable rulers, strategists, and combatants in battle.
    • Horik's too, to a lesser extent. He's a great warrior, and his wife is a shield-maiden, which makes them similar to Ragnar and Lagertha.
  • Badass Beard: Most of the Vikings sport very impressive beards.
  • Badass Crew: Ragnar's warband seems to be the toughest group of warriors around.
  • Badass Grandpa: Tostig is a veteran of many raiding campaigns and has survived them all, to his chagrin. He asks to join the next raid in spite of his age because he wants one last chance to die in battle and join his comrades in Valhalla.
  • Bad Boss: Due to Earl Haraldson's greed and paranoia, it can be just as dangerous to be one of his loyal followers as being one of his enemies. He goes as far as to give one of his men the permission to sleep with the Earl's wife and then have the man executed when he takes the Earl up on the offer.
    • King Horik too. Ragnar showed him nothing but loyalty, and yet he still tried to kill him.
  • Beard of Barbarism: The Vikings have wild, barbarous (and impressive) beards in contrast to the simple beards or clean-shaven looks of Saxons.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Rollo's gruesome facial scars fade to the point that they're hardly visible. On the other hand, Thorunn's gruesome facial scars become a major plot point.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Once Thorunn is free, she insists that Bjorn fight her, after which they tumble into each others' arms.
  • Bilingual Bonus: That's actual Old Norse and Old English they're speaking, or as close as most linguists can get.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Athelstan and Judith's son is born the same episode Athelstan is murdered by Floki.
  • Blatant Lies: Ragnar's claim that he and his men are traders to the Northumbrian sheriff who meets them when they land in England for the second time. While the sheriff himself seems to desperately be trying to believe it, the claim is quickly disproven when Floki steals a cross from a Northumbrian soldier, and the two sides set about killing each other. This actually happened according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, mind you.
  • Blind Seer: The Seer's eyes appear to be sewn shut.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Ragnar after being wounded during the siege of Paris.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Count Odo likes to whip chained women, though he says that he only does it to willing participants. Because he has an influential position in the city, he can convince women seeking his favor to endure his fetish.
  • Braids of Action: The Viking men wear them for their hair and beards. Ragnar's signature hairstyle is a single fat braid.
  • Break the Haughty: Whenever the Norsemen characters suffer a loss, they think the gods are punishing them for some reason or another. Major examples:
    • Ragnar can only think of his and Lagertha's son being miscarried being a result of this.
    • Rollo is so envious of Ragnar that he can no longer see the point of his life and thinks the gods are just playing with him and teasing him with his brother's good fortune. He falls into drunken binges often depending on how much he lets the given situation get to him.
    • Floki leads the raid on Paris, only to be humiliated with a crushing defeat - he can't fathom why he'd be punished for anything he's done and curses the gods before falling into despair.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Floki is... weird. However, he's also a brilliant shipwright.
  • Bullying The Dragon: People seem to keep forgetting that Lagertha is a shieldmaiden and knows how to fight. People try to sexually assault her three times, and each time she gets the upper hand on her attacker.
  • The Bus Came Back: Erlendur Horiksson and Torveig, wife of Jarl Borg, return in S 3 E 4 to join forces with Kalf after not being mentioned since the finale of Season 2 and the end of the episode Blood Eagle, respectively.
  • Cain and Abel: Rollo and Ragnar. Rollo has spent his life in Ragnar's shadow and is envious of everything in his life. Throughout the show, he's constantly tempted to betray his brother for his own gain.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Bjorn takes his father to task for cheating on Lagertha.
  • Canis Major: Bjorn walks his gigantic wolfhound to the Thing.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: When Siggy asks if he can keep a secret, Floki grins and says, "No!"
  • Christianity Is Catholic: In 793 AD England, it was. It's centuries before the Great Catholic/Orthodox Schism and the even later Protestant Reformation.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture:
    • Haraldson dishes out some of this to Rollo.
    • During the sack of Winchester, King Horik has the bishop tied to a pillar and slowly riddled with arrows. It only ends when Athelstan puts him out of his misery.
    • It's more a method of execution rather than torture, but the blood eagle is a truly horrifying way to kill someone.
  • Combat Breakdown: Ragnar and the Earl's duel. They start out with sword and shield, but their shields get smashed and Ragnar's sword breaks. It concludes with axes.
  • Comforting the Widow: Rollo seeks out Siggy and offers her his protection after the death of her husband. Luckily for her, she seemed interested in him beforehand.
  • Crisis of Faith:
    • Athelstan.
    “Where are you Lord? Tell me… is it your will that I am here with these heathens? How does it serve you? I don’t understand and for the first time in my life I am angry with you. You allow my brothers to be slaughtered and sold. Is this really your will? for the first time… I feel lonely. Where are you, Lord? Where are you? And why don’t you answer me?”
    • This gets even worse when he is captured by the Anglo-Saxons, where he finds himself once again immersed in Christianity and Anglo-Saxon culture while simultaneously attracted to the Viking religion he's been practicing for years.
    • Haraldsson has one regarding the Norse gods.
    • Even The Fundamentalist Floki has one after the Viking defeat during the first assault on Paris. He did everything he could to please the gods and yet was rewarded with utter failure.
  • Curbstomp Battle: The battles against the Mercians armies end up in massive victories for the Viking and Wessex forces despite the Mercians outnumbering them. The Mercians cannot stand the Viking onslaught, rout and their leaders are killed or captured.
  • Darker and Edgier: Season 2 as compared to Season 1. Not that the latter was a barrel of laughs by any stretch of the imagination, but the show's second season is bloodier, more tragic, the characters are darker, and the villains are far more threatening. In the first season, there was a sense of glory and adventure; in the second, there's a feeling of doom and dire portents. This may be deliberate, as the Norse sagas did often follow a similar path of the youthful adventure and the gradual decline into dishonor and tragedy.
  • Death Seeker: Tostig is upset that all of his raiding friends have died in battle and left him behind. He wants to rejoin them in Valhalla.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After suffering a defeat at the hands of the Ecbert/Aelle coalition, some of the Vikings agree to sign on as mercenaries to aid in the conquest of Mercia.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The Vikings treat rape and pillage like just another fact of life.
    • The finer points of Viking law:
      • If you kill someone in self-defense, you have to report the killing to the nearest household. You may walk past two houses if you think the families are kin of the dead and will try to attack you, but only two.
      • Thieves are made to run the gauntlet, with everyone required to pelt him with stuff.
      • Slaves have absolutely no rights or protection. Athelstan observes that a man can rape a slave without consequence, but not a free woman, and that Ragnar could legally kill him and suffer no consequence.
      • Every man sworn to a chief is required to attend an assembly (Thing) where cases are heard so they can expect jury duty. "Every man" includes what we'd call minors today.
    • The cultural divide between the English and the Norse.
    • The Vikings see being sacrificed to the gods as a great honour and a sacred duty.
    • The Vikings' casual attitude towards death may be unnerving to some modern viewers, but it was fairly natural given their religious and cultural outlook.
    • Ragnar suggests practicing polygamy, and he states that it's a common practice. According to the makers of the show, a Viking man could have multiple concubines, who are accepted by his wife because they represent no threat to her station. Ragnar, however, suggests taking Aslaug as an additional wife, which Lagertha cannot accept.
    • The blood eagle is a method of executing someone who you feel has severely wronged you and involves your back being cut open, your ribs being shattered, and your lungs being ripped out the back and placed on your shoulders. If you endure it without screaming, it's considered such a brave act that you go to Valhalla, even though you weren't killed in battle
  • Designated Girl Fight: Lagertha is sent to fight Horik's wife, a fellow shieldmaiden.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: It's never made clear if Thyri and Athelstan had sex at Uppsala. Although their interactions are quite suggestive, it's never made clear if they actually did anything except kiss and take their clothes off.
  • Difficulty Spike: While the Vikings outfight and outwit the Northumbrians fairly easily, they find themselves significantly more challenged by the forces of Wessex. They can still outfight them easily, but outwitting them is the problem, and the West Saxons don't fight fair, either.
  • Disc One Final Boss: Earl Haraldson is defeated midway through the first season.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In a non-sexual example of this trope, when Athelstan's hands begin to bleed he seeks out Lagertha in a way that is strongly reminiscent of a frightened and confused child going to his mother for help.
  • Doomed Hometown: Athelstan was a monk in the monastery of Lindisfarne, and its destruction at the hands of the Northmen marks the beginning of his character arc.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Svein can do nothing more than watch his Earl get killed in the duel. Rollo then buries an axe in his chest.
  • Duel to the Death: Ragnar challenges the Earl to a duel, which is held Viking-style.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • Earl Haraldson orders that the body of an executed man be fed to the pigs. Ragnar disapproves since the condemned man did not deserve such a dishonor.
    • After some of his men are killed in battle, Ragnar and the other Vikings take the time to bury them properly and even have a Libation for the Dead over their graves.
    • Inverted with the murders of Earl Haraldson's sons. The killers dishonored them and their father by burying them with their severed heads kissing their buttocks. They were also buried in a shallow grave so animals could get to the bodies.
    • The funeral of Earl Haraldson is a major affair with a lot of drinking, fighting and ends in a Viking Funeral and a Human Sacrifice of a female slave to join her master in the afterlife.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In the first two episodes of the show, the hair on the top of Ragnar's head is often worn loose, making it look a bit like he's got a mullet. From the third episode on, his hair is entirely tied back into his ponytail for as long as he has it.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: After the Norse make a reference to Ragnarök, Athelstan asks what it is, resulting in awkward silence until he changes the subject. He eventually wears them down.
  • Enfante Terrible: Erlendur seems like he's trying to be this after the death of his entire family in the Season 2 finale.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Ragnar and Rollo make short work of several hostile tribesmen in the Eastern Baltic.
    • Lagertha fights off two rapists single-handedly.
    • Earl Haraldson arbitrates a dispute unjustly due to being personally invested in the case.
    • King Horik sneaks incognito into the Uppsala temple to play a prank.
    • King Ecbert is introduced floating in his Roman bath. When he learns that Northmen have invaded, he calmly ponders his move. This is clearly a more formidable rival than King Aelle.
    • When Emperor Charles is introduced, he wants to flee Paris before the Vikings arrive, but is equally scared of what his lords will think. Princess Gisla is introduced informing him that leaving the city is unthinkable.
  • Everyone Calls Him Bar Keep: The village seer is referred to only as "the seer."
  • Evil Uncle: King Horik's six uncles killed his father, mother, and siblings. He won his throne by challenging and then killing them one by one.
  • Eye Scream: Lagertha delivers a swift one to her abusive husband Sigvard with a carving knife. Without even looking.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Jarl Borg doesn't resist or make a scene when he's executed. He also doesn't cry out during the blood eagle, which ensures his place in Valhalla.
    • Athelstan anticipates his murder by Floki. He prays beforehand and is utterly serene when he's axed in the face.
    • A captured Earl exploits this trope by stating that he would accept his beheading peacefully if someone would hold his hair. He gets one last laugh on the Franks by pulling his head away just before the axe falls so that the man holding his hair gets his hands chopped off.
  • Face-Heel Turn:
    • King Horik is initially an ally of Ragnar, than a teeth-clenched teammate, then an outright enemy.
    • Subverted by Floki, who pretends to betray Ragnar to Horik but is actually plotting with Ragnar against Horik.
  • Fish out of Water: Athelstan, an English monk among pagan Vikings. He takes to their ways with slow, yet growing aplomb.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in Season 2, a throwaway has Floki admitting that he cannot keep a secret. We later see him plotting with Horik behind Ragnar's back, but later find out that he was reporting everything back to Ragnar.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: During the opening credits, when the thunder rolls you can briefly see a figure standing on a field. This is a single frame of Hel herself
  • The Fundamentalist: Floki is the most religious of Ragnar's group. He's the only one to criticize Rollo for going through a baptism and is the first to try to volunteer for human sacrifice. He often bullies Athelstan for his Christian background and is the most troubled by Ragnar's plan of Northman and Christian co-existence. It comes to a head in season three when Floki has a religious vision that inspires him to murder Athelstane.
  • Glasgow Grin: Rollo gets one courtesy of Haraldson's torture.
  • God Is Good: Discussed between Athelstan and Ragnar. As a faithful priest, Athelstan believes He is good and Vikings are a punishment from Him for his people's sins. Ragnar says He is greedy (for stuffing the monastary with gold) and stupid (for not protecting that gold).
  • God Was My Copilot: Ambiguous. Ragnar prays to Odin at one point in the first season and is able to fight his way free of Earl Haraldson's men despite being heavily wounded.
    Haraldson: Do you deny you're a criminal? Worthy only of defeat? Worthy only of death?
    Ragnar: (kneeling, clutching at his wounds) I accept my fate. Let me speak to my god.
    Haraldson: (orders his men to turn away so that Ragnar can pray)
    Ragnar: Odin, Lord of Lords, Father, help me.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Many Vikings, including our hero Ragnar, have elaborate hairstyles that make them look like bikers or heavy metal rock stars, reminding us that these are badass Vikings.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Ragnar and Lagertha, while being firm antiheroes, have a passionate and satisfying sex life. Meanwhile, it's implied that Earl Haraldson has grown impotent in his old age. In Season 2, Siggy rewards Rollo for being a better, more responsible person with sex.
  • Good Shepherd: Athelstan takes his vocation seriously; his "greatest treasure" is an unadorned Bible, and he refuses to join a threesome with Ragnar and Lagertha because of his vow of celibacy. Ragnar is so impressed with his character he puts him in charge of the family farm while he's gone.
    Ragnar: I do not think of him as a slave. He is a responsible person.
  • Going Native: Athelstan progressively becomes more Viking until he proves himself in battle and becomes Ragnar's thane.
  • Grey and Grey Morality:
    • Ragnar is a murderous Viking raider, but he's protective of his people and family. His major enemies are equally ruthless.
    • Athelstan, in turn, is conflicted in his belief about Ragnar and the other vikings when Ragnar continuously shows him kindness, and thematically struggles with this trope throughout the series.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Downplayed; Athelstan is 'not interested' in escaping, but he'd rather be a free man. Of course, he's also well aware that he's incapable of fighting and far away from home in a strange land — even if he were to escape, he realizes he doesn't really stand a chance at getting home.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Ragnar asks this to the only survivor of the massacred Norse settlement in Wessex, then proceeds to strangle him to keep the massacre a secret.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door:
    • Rollo, who is constantly torn between loyalty to Ragnar and bitterness at living in his brother's shadow.
    • Jarl Borg also shifts between alliance and enmity with Ragnar more than once.
    • Athelstan is often accused of this. If not loyal to the Vikings or the Saxons, Athelstan is at the very least fiercely loyal to Ragnar.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic:
    • Few of the Vikings wear helmets into battle, and those that we see don't have horns. Most Vikings in real life were too poor to own a helmet, but Ragnar's elite group passes up many opportunities to loot helmets and armor from their many foes.
    • Most of the English soldiers wear helmets, revealing their status as mooks, while their armored commanders often go bareheaded.
  • Heroic BSOD: Rollo suffers these frequently, and often responds with excessive drinking. He notably has one after he returns to Kattegat to find that Siggy died while he was gone, leading to a massive drinking binge and picking a fight with his nephew Bjorn, who promptly trounces him in a street brawl in front of all his fellow warriors.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Rollo, Björn, King Aelle, Aethelwulf, Horik I, King Ecbert of Wessex, Kwenthrith, Princess Judith, Ivar the Boneless, and probably more to come. And that's not counting the semi-legendary figures.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • When Ragnar is recruiting followers, the Viking who is most vocally opposed to the idea of going to England is named "Knut." Ironically, a Danish prince also named Cnut would invade England and become its second Viking King (the first being his father, Svein Forkbeard's, brief reign) toward the end of the Viking Era.
    • Depending on how this show pans out later, this can turn into a stellar example of Foreshadowing. Floki, in the first episode, jokes about how Bjorn looks like Ragnar and how he will try to do better than him to move out of the shadow of that, and then of how Ragnar will hate him for that. In the Norse saga, this is exactly what happened, and much of Ragnar's later actions were motivated by his fear that his sons would eclipse him in fame.
    • Two of Ragnar's men, Eric and Leif, are father and son. They're named after the explorers Eric the Red and his more famous son Leif Ericsson who landed in North America. But they're not them since they live centuries too early and they die.
    • Horik remarks on how he has heard of Christians in the eighth episode. Historically, Horik's predecessor had converted to Christianity, and Horik himself fiercely resisted attempts by Saint Ansgar of Hamburg-Bremen to proselytize the Danes.
    • Rollo remarks in the same episode on how one day he will be a great man. Not only did he establish Normandy, but almost every European ruler can trace his decent to him. To date, only a few other individuals have contributed more to Europe than he has.
    • Possible foreshadowing: Mark King Aelle's Snake Pit because that's how Ragnar dies in the sagas. Earlier, Ragnar likened himself to a boar and his son to a piglet, which brings to mind his Famous Last Words: "How the little pigs would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffers!"
    • Aslaug prophesied her son Sigurd will have a snake in his eye, in homage to her father Sigurd, who fought and killed a giant snake and in punishment to Ragnar's arrogance. And then the baby's born with a deformed eyeball, that looks like a snake is piercing his Iris. In real life, historians are still theorizing why Sigurd was called "Sigurd Snake-In-The-Eye", as there is no concrete explanation for his nickname.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Queen of Mercia states that her brother Saint Kenelm raped her as a child. She killed him in revenge and became something of a sexual predator. According to legend, he was a holy boy killed by his sister for his inheritance. Historically, little is known of Kenelm, and his sister went into a nunnery.
  • Hollywood Tactics: When encountering a numerically superior force, Ragnar's Vikings step out to face them on an open beach rather than stay in the narrow choke point they started at. It doesn't matter, however, because the Saxon soldiers never even try to flank them.
  • Holy Roman Empire: It's mentioned that Athelstan spent time in Charlemagne's court before the fall of Lindisfarne.
  • Honor Before Reason: After Ragnar's sword breaks, the Earl lets Ragnar smash their shields to bits and then tosses his own sword away so that they can pause to re-arm themselves with axes. This might be due to the duel's ritualistic nature.
  • Horny Vikings: The main characters are Vikings, and their pillaging is largely influential to the plot. One horned helm is witnessed, but it has ceremonial use that is true to life.
  • Human Sacrifice:
    • A slave girl is sacrificed as part of a Viking Funeral. This element is present in Ahmed Ibn Fadlan's account of the Rus.
    • Nine people are sacrificed by the Uppsala temple. The sacrifices must be willing and believers in the Norse gods.
  • Human Shield: Ragnar uses himself as one of these to protect Athelstan from Horik's hidden archer in "The Choice". He knows that Horik will attempt to kill the priest as soon as he's out of sight, so Ragnar offers to escort Athelstan back to Ecbert's territory and physically shields him from any kind of attack.
  • Hypocritical Humor: King Ecbert warns his daughter in-law about the dangers of becoming infatuated with "interesting" people… after spending the last two episodes all but openly courting Lagertha.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: This is what Earl Haraldson's name is, but we never learn the X part of his name, so it's moot. The children are also referred to in this manner. For instance, lots of people call Bjorn, "son of Ragnar." This is Truth in Television as families didn't have a familial name — what we would think of a last name was simply the name of their father plus a suffix of son or daughter. Individuals might have last names that were basically titles, but they did not function as family names.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: As the show poster suggests, Ragnar's icy, blue-eyed gaze is frequently lingered upon, and he shows no hesitation in killing. They're even more impressive when his face and head is covered in red blood and the only thing you can see of his face is two brilliant blue eyes, staring.
  • Impaled Palm: Athelstan has this done to his hands and feet during crucifixion. The scars still pain him several months later, although writing and painting seems to have helped his dominant hand a bit.
  • Important Haircut:
    • After Athelstan is tempted to go native with his new Viking owners, he shaves his stubbled tonsure to reaffirm his commitment to his monk lifestyle. As he becomes more invested in Norse culture, however, he gets increasingly hairy.
    • Ragnar completely shaves his head after Athelstan's death, complete with suffering similar bloody cuts that Athelstan suffered when he tried to retain his tonsure in the first season.
    • In the third season, Bjorn has changed his haircut to a shorter version of Ragnar's signature mohawk-braid, while Ragnar has shaved his hair down to stubble. This hints at Bjorn eventually supplanting his father.
  • Instant Expert:
    • Ragnar asks Athelstan to teach him some English. When he arrives in England, he's proficient enough to hold fluent conversations with natives. The time between the two scenes is unclear, and we never see him practicing.
    • Lagertha has a single scene in which she displays partial proficiency in the Saxon language. By her next appearance, perhaps a few weeks later, she's completely fluent.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence:
    • Lagertha attacks her husband Ragnar to convince him that he should take her on a Viking voyage. He tries to use it as foreplay.
    • Ragnar slashes his palm and smears blood everywhere while seeking out Aslaug's bedroom. His original intent was to kill her.
  • It's All About Me:
    • Aslaug, after Jarl Bork has taken over Kattegat, though she claims that it is about her children. Everyone in the village who could wield a weapon just died to secure her escape, but her main worry is that the hide-out Rollo finds for her is not up to her standards. The person who has to listen to her complains and reassure her is Siggy, who herself lost her sons, her first husband, her status, and finally her daughter. Later on Aslaug insists that Ragnar shouldn't ally himself with Jarl Borg again. Not because she considers it a bad move, or because of what he did to Kattegat, no, her main reason is that he insulted and humiliated her.
    • Despite the ferocity and numbers of the pagan Northmen, Emperor Charles is too proud to call his brothers for aid in defending Paris, even though this could potentially doom thousands to their deaths. For him his issues with his brothers take precedence over the lives of all his subjects. Then subverted in the season finale when he reveals, bitterly, the he had sent word to his brothers for aid and they refused.
  • Jerk Ass:
    • Earl Haraldson is pompous, arrogant, and forces others to say what a great ruler he is.
    • Earl Bjarni casually threatens to beat his wife if she doesn't get him some herrings.
  • Kangaroo Court: The first episode has the Earl hold court over a murder trial involving a land dispute. The Earl is obviously angry because he wanted the land for himself. Everyone votes against the man to placate the Earl. When Ragnar's son does not raise his hand, the Earl pointedly insists that the boy join with the rest.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Earl Haraldson curses a man who is about to be executed. Ragnar and his son disapprove.
    • Rollo rapes a slave girl just before the voyage, foreshadowing his later conflicts with Ragnar.
    • The Swedish Earl casually threatens to beat his new wife.
    • Ragnar tries to maneuver Athelstan into getting sacrificed. Due to Deliberate Values Dissonance, however, it's left unclear whether Ragnar intended to honor Athelstan with sacrifice or to avoid losing one of his prized fighters.
    • Count Odo seems like a pretty normal, dedicated guy. Then it's discovered that he's got a secret dungeon where he chains women up and whip them. He only does it to willing women, at least as far as we know, and he promises to stop when they ask, but the overall tone is creepy.
  • Killed Offscreen: Subverted by Ragnar in the season 3 finale. He's shown ailing in bed, and it's implied that he hasn't got much time left. Then after a commercial break, he's shown suddenly dead. It turns out that he was just faking his death, though he is legitimately ailing.
  • King Incognito: King Horik sneaks into the Uppsala temple in peasant's garb to prank the priests there.
  • Kubrick Stare: Ragnar's icy blue gaze is often coupled with a Kubrick Stare for extra intensity.
  • Lady Macbeth: Siggy serves this role for Earl Haraldson, though she doesn't support some of his more paranoid endeavors. When she shacks up with Rollo, it's not long before she's up to her old tricks.
  • Large Ham: Linus Roache as King Ecbert, particularly at the end of The Usurper, where he demonstrates actual mouth-frothing rage. "My name, and my word, as King of Wessex, will mean nothing to them! But it cannot be, cannot be. It cannot be. I cannot allow, and I cannot tolerate, treason. Guards!"
  • Last Name Basis: Earl Haraldson's first name is not revealed, which is strange considering that "Haraldson" is a patronymic, not a surname, so he should be called "Earl [First Name]."
  • Left Hanging: One episode ends with Athelstan approaching Lagertha with the wounds of the stigmata on his hands. Oddly, it's never brought up again.
  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: Ragnar specifically is this compared to some of the other Vikings; He frequently shows mercy on enemies and the helpless. More than anything, the show presents his primary virtue as his forward-thinking attitude and thirst for knowledge.
  • Lovable Rogue: Ragnar is a plunderer but he knows limits and is an affable guy.
  • Luckily My Shield Will Protect Me: Vikings are often seen with their circular wooden shields. They hammer on them with their axes before battle. Most battles involve shield wall tactics.
  • Made a Slave: This happens to Athelstan and the monks of Lindisfarne that were spared during the raid.
  • Made of Iron: Invoked when Ragnar gives Bjorn the nickname "Ironside" due to the fact that during a battle Bjorn was in the thick of fighting and did not suffer any wounds.
  • Magic Realism:
    • The series as a whole makes a point of the fact that the characters subscribe to the notions of divine predetermination and fate, so the things that happen to them are to a certain extent preternatural to them. This adds to an epic, mystical feeling that calls back to the Eddas that inspired the show.
    • Ragnar has a vision of Odin and valkyries after a battle in the first scene of the show and more throughout the series. It's deliberately left unclear whether they are supernatural visions or if he's just hallucinating.
    • Aslaug's prophesies, such as about Sigurd's eye.
    • The seer as a whole. He makes a number of prophesies that are quite accurate, but also frequently refuses to answer some of the most pointed questions. It's also implied that he's several hundred years old.
    • Athelstan has several Christian-themed visions, such as bleeding stigmata, demons and angelic light. He is momentarily blinded by one vision, which causes his final confirmation of his Christian faith.
    • Loki has a vision of one of his mastheads bleeding, which he takes as a sign from the gods.
    • Harbard the Wanderer. Auslag, Helga and Siggy all have the same dream of his arrival. He seems to have magical powers and may or may not be Odin or Loki.
  • Mama Bear: Lagertha threatens to rip out Athelstan's lungs if harm comes to her children while he looks after them. And then, after being informed of Horik's intent to kill Bjorn and his young brothers in the Season 2 finale, she is absolutely vicious in her attack against Horik's wife and his soldiers, killing anyone connected to the king or who may have been involved in the plot.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Earl Haraldson tries, though he is often stymied by his pessimistic assumptions that all men are as greedy and underhanded as he is.
    • King Horik and Jarl Borg both far outclass him in Seasons 1 and 2, although Ragnar manages to outsmart both of them.
    • And in Season 3 Ecbert and Ragnar leave them all in the dust.
  • Mauve Shirt: Erik Marteinn, who looked set to be The Big Guy in Ragnar's team, gets killed in Episode 4.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's not entirely clear where the Magic Realism ends and real realism begins. Many characters have visions of supernatural events, and Harbard the Wanderer is openly speculated to be a god, but it's never confirmed either way.
  • Meaningful Name: It is noted that Floki has a name that sounds like Loki. He resembles the trickster god's role in many ways: a close ally to the hero on his travels, as Loki is to Thor (Ragnar, in this case); not a muscular warrior, but his intelligence is of great help (Floki builds their ship and imparts important advice to Ragnar); frequently causes mischief and trouble (needlessly burning down the monastery, causing a battle by ripping a crucifix off a soldier). In Season 2, he openly associates himself with Loki and names his daughter after Loki's first wife.
  • The Millstone: Horik becomes this to Ragnar. He goes back on a deal with Jarl Borg which jeopardizes their upcoming raid and involves Ragnar in a pointless and costly feud with Borg. He sabotages Ragnar's negotiations with King Ecbert and then leads the Viking force into a trap. At first he is motivated by Revenge Before Reason but by the end of Season 2 he is actively conspiring against Ragnar.
  • Mushroom Samba:
    • Athelstan seems to hallucinate when the details of Ragnarök are told to him. It might have something to do with what they put in the fire to make it smoke.
    • Ragnar's group eats mushrooms at the Uppsala temple. We see some of Athelstan's trip from his perspective. Humrously enough, the mushrooms themself look suspiciously like chanterelles, and not fly agaric, the only psychoactive (and very poisonous) mushroom of Scandinavia.
  • Never Learned to Read: All of the Vikings, which is Truth in Television since Real Life Vikings were illiterate and unable to record their own history, especially in the earlier years of paganism. The only main character who can read or write is Athelstan, but he's also a very well-educated Anglo-Saxon monk from Christian England, not pagan Scandinavia like the Norsemen.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: Ragnar has Horik stabbed repeatedly before delivering a deathblow himself and then pummeling his corpse with head-butts and nearby objects.
  • Not So Different: "Sometimes your God sounds like one of our gods."
  • Oh My Gods!: We been to Hel and back!
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Norse chanting, in this case. During the second Viking raid, a song by Wardruna is played using authentic Viking-age instruments. It features men and women chanting quotes from the rune poems in Old Norse about how wealth is the joy and source of discord among men and the path of the serpent. This chanting becomes more and more common as Season 2 progresses.
  • Omniglot: One of Athelstan's most valuable traits, both to the Vikings and King Ecbert. Thus far, it's been shown that he's either fluent or semi-fluent in reading, writing, and speaking Old English, Old Norse, Latin, Greek, High German, and possibly several other dialects and languages native to the main continent.
  • One Steve Limit: King Aelle's brother and King Ecbert son are both named Aethelwulf. However the former only appears briefly in Season 1, whereas the latter appears throughout Season 2.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: The main characters receive quite a few grievous wounds, but always bounce back to fighting shape.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Athelstan guiltily leafs through the Bible of a monk he's killed and hallucinates that an illustrated Jesus bleeds real blood. The blood oozes onto Athelstan's hands, causing him to frantically wipe at them, but the blood has disappeared.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Rollo. After all his previous Kick The Dog moments, in the fourth episode Rollo is seen giving a sick, old Englishman water instead of killing him (he then steals the cup and pitcher, however) and testifying on behalf of his brother in court, when he could have betrayed him for treasure and a good marriage.
    • Ragnar hides a child from his own men during a raid.
    • Aslaug frees one of her slaves so that her step-son Bjorn can woo her. It's one of the rare times that Aslaug has an opportunity to do something selfless.
    • Aethelwulf threatens to torture an enemy soldier, but as soon as he's got the information he needs, he lets the man go and even offers him a drink. It's his attempt to distance himself from his Viking allies (whom he has pegged as total savages).
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: All of the Vikings. Their idea of paradise is fighting all day and feasting all night.
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Oriflamme. It’s first recorded historical appearance is in the 12th century, but legends place it as far back as Charlemagne’s reign.
  • Rated M for Manly: It's a show about Vikings based off Old Norse poetry and legendary sagas.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Rape is always used as a Kick the Dog moment for characters, but Norse culture is ambivalent about it. Rollo rapes a slave girl and is teased as a villain. Knut's attempted rape of a free Norse woman is played as a clear indication of villainy. Our hero Ragnar's only mention of rape is to condemn its use against his wife.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The Vikings' original intention in England is to simply loot it for wealth before returning home. The more broad-minded Ragnar realizes there's more wealth in its fertile soil and wants to colonize it instead.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: The common characteristic of every non-Viking princess on the show. Kwenthrith, Judith and Gisla are all very pale, dark haired beauties.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Floki and the shamans of Uppsala wears Kohl eye makeup.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "If I Had a Heart" by Fever Ray.
  • Red Herring: Floki griping about Ragnar to Helga gives credence to his apparent betrayal of Ragnar, but his betrayal was a ruse.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: A defining theme in the series is the contrast between pagan Viking traditions and Christian traditions. Viking customs are raucous, bloody and aggressive, while Christian customs are somber, ethereal and reserved.
  • Remember the New Guy: In season one, Kattegut's Earl presides over trials and hands down punishment. In season two, Kattegut suddenly has a "lawgiver" who presides over Rollo's trial and hands down a ruling that is (officially at least) beyond the Earl's control.
  • Rite of Passage:
    • In the first episode, Ragnar's son has become old enough to attend and vote in a Thing. He also pledges fealty to the Earl and receives ceremonial rings.
    • Athelstan earns the right to call himself a thane after displaying bravery in battle.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • King Horik fights on the front lines with his men.
    • King Aelle and King Ecbert are both active in the defense of their realms.
    • As of the Season 2 finale, King Ragnar.
  • Rousing Speech: Princess Gisla gives an impressive one that rallies the defenders of Paris during the Norsemen's attank on the walls:
    Princess Gisla: Soldiers! Citizens of Paris! Behold the Oriflamme. Behold the sacred flag of Saint-Denis. Behold the sacred flag of Frankia. Behold, soldiers of Christ. That wherever the Oriflamme is, no quarter is to be given to our enemies. Soldiers, show no mercy. Fight on! (Soldiers screaming) Fight to the death!
  • Rule of Symbolism: See that funny V symbol? It incorporates the Valknut, the stripes on a longship's sail and the symbol of Yggdrasil and the blade of a sword to fully encompass the beliefs and traditions of the Norse as a people.
  • Say Your Prayers:
    • King Aelle's brother does this while Ragnar and his men attack his camp, rather than try to rally his soldiers or resist the massacre.
    • Also done by the priests of Lindisfarne when the Vikings invade. This leads to their undoing, as the sound of their prayers causes the Vikings to find their hiding place.
    • In the Season 2 finale, the waterfall scene of Ragnar and Athelstan praying together foreshadows and intermeshes with Horik's invasion of Kattegut. In this particular case, the prayer works.
  • Scenery Porn: Viking Age Scandinavia is so pretty...
    • There are those sweeping scenery shots in Episode 8, and also the shot of the temple of Uppsala sitting majestically on a hill. Inaccurate in that Uppsala is flat-land, but damn, it looks gorgeous.
    • The shot of the mountains when Athelstan is first brought to Kattegat. So feral, so untamed, so glorious.
    • Each of the waterfall backdrops in the Season 2 finale are absolutely beautiful.
  • Secret Test of Character: Earl Haraldson offers his wife to one of his spies. The man accepts, so the Earl has him executed. It's presented as an example of the Earl's villainous paranoia.
  • Sexy Priest: Athelstan has quite a few admirers in the fanbase. And some on the show now, too.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the problems the show's creators faced when making this was that there are just so few sources that accurately represent the Norse. After all, like the Mongols, their history was written primarily by the people they beat the shit out of. So, the showrunners had to rely primarily on Scandinavian sagas to paint a somewhat factual representation of them. Even so, this show has gotten a lot of things right in regards to history:
    • Norse dress and appearance is represented mostly accurately.
    • Ragnar is shown waiting until villagers are at Mass before raiding a Christian settlement. This was indeed the favoured tactic of Ragnar Lodbrok, according to the sagas.
    • The duel between Haraldson and Ragnar, a holmgang, is very accurately represented. Down to Svein's formal recitation of the rules of the duel, and the two parties meeting on a pre-specified plot of land. Even the shields are right, with both men having helpers who give them their shield replacements. The back-up weapon rule is also historically accurate. Historically, early holmgangs did indeed end with death. Though later on, first blood and other such measures were implemented to curb that. The only thing that seems to be missing is that a sheet was supposed to be placed on the ground to mark the area, and four posts were to be placed at each corner of the sheet.
    • Floki's shipbuilding lecture in the first episode is legit.
    • The description of the Uppsala temple is taken directly from Adam of Bremen, althrough that source has been questioned as Adam of Bremen never went there himself. The temple, or a building used for religious cermonies, was probably real but we will probably never know if it look like that.
    • Way back in the first episode, Ragnar tells Bjorn the story of how he won Lagertha's hand in marriage — by killing an enormous bear with his spear and strangling a giant hound, the animals who guarded her home. This is taken word for word from the Gesta Danorum as penned by Saxo Grammaticus.
    • In one episode, the Vikings land in England and are mistaken as traders by an official, who they then murder when he attempts to lead them to the Royal Villa of the King so that they may pay a trading tax upon their goods. This entire sequence actually happened according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
    • The practice of a heathen converting to Christianity in order to seal a deal when the Vikings dealt with the Saxons is one that appears in many historical instances. For instance, to seal the Peace of Wedmore, the Viking Guthrum was baptized into Christianity with the Anglo-Saxon name of Athelstan and accepted King Alfred the Great as his adoptive father. The Vikings treating the baptism in a non-serious manner as seen in the show also has some basis in historical fact; the conversions were commonly seen as merely a legal binding, and often did little to reduce the Viking's hold on the areas they conquered in England.
    • Ragnar accurately and beautifully quotes the Runatal, the story of how Odin found the runes by sacrificing himself with his own spear on Yggdrasil.
    • Rollo's tattoos seem to be representations of Sköll and Hati, the sons of Fenrir Hrodvitnir.
    • Rollo's war chant in one of the first battles against the English is closely based on a death poem by Ţórir Jökull Steinfinnsson (though he lived some centuries after the events of the show.)
    • Ecbert's desire to become ruler of all England is grounded in reality, as Ecbert made numerous overtures to conquer neighbouring Saxon kingdoms, and actually succeeded in adding Mercia and other places to his domain.
    • There are frequently scenes in which characters are quoting Scandinavian lore. For example, when Lagertha or Aslaug tell bedtime stories, or the seer is trying to make a point clear.
    • The runes Floki carves are accurately depicted.
    • Floki retrieving a sword from his deceased forebear (his father, in this case) for use in his wedding ceremony is true to history.
    • The blót that Ragnar and company attend in 1x08 is portrayed accurately, almost adapted word-for-word from blóts described as taking place in Sweden, like in the Gutasaga or Adam of Bremen's account of Uppsala.
    • The ritualistic washing and nose-blowing in the same bowl that Ragnar's crew participates in before setting sail is adapted from one of the most famous contemporary depictions of Vikings, that of the Arab traveler Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who encountered a group of Rus (Vikings) in the the Volga area in the 10th century and, among many other observations on their looks and customs, describes just such a scene (which he finds quite disgusting).
    • The king or community leader performing the sacrifice. That is as far as we know how it really would have happened.
    • The massacre of the Norse settlers by Christian Saxons depicted in Usurper was likely inspired by the infamous Saint Brice Day massacre where Ćthelred the Unready had every Danish settler in England slaughtered, many of whom who were pagans note 
    • In "Breaking Point," a Christian missionary arrogantly declares the Norse gods false and accepts a test involving the handling of red-hot iron bars set by Aslaug to prove the power of his god. This is derived from chronicles of the Christianisation of the Norse, which lionize the missionaries. These chronicles assert that the missionaries were easily able to handle the iron due to the blessings of God and thus easily convinced Norsemen to become baptized. This is referenced in an Imagine Spot contrasting how the missionary thinks the ordeal will go (without him getting burned) and then showing the reality (his hands getting burnt to a crisp).
    • The Anglo-Saxons' belief that the Romans were a race of giants is based on real medieval reactions to the massive and mysterious Roman ruins.
  • The Scourge of God: The Church and some nobles of the kingdom of Northumbria believe the Vikings have been sent by God to punish the Saxons for their sins. Other nobles, however, believe that they might have been instead sent by Satan. And yet others have this crazy notion that they're just savage men come to plunder on their own whims, with no supernatural origin.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: In the second season, Jarl Borg tries again to seduce Rollo into treachery, but Rollo simply punches him in the face.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Ragnar and Rollo.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Ragnar's favourite type of sex with Lagertha seems to be make-up sex.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: A particularly blood example. The conflicts between Vikings and Christian Europeans are depicted this way, with Vikings as the earthy, wild slobs and the Christians as the stiff, refined snobs.
  • The Smart Guy:
    • Floki, the shipbuilder, who designs a state-of-the-art boat that can make the trip to England. He also turns out to have a fair bit of medical knowledge. He's still a Viking, however, so he's more interested in seeing how parchment burns than studying its detailed drawings.
    • Athelstan is probably the most well-educated character on the show. Unlike the Vikings, he can read and write multiple languages as well as speak them, spent time in Charlemagne's court, and displays a great deal of knowledge on cultures and religions outside of his own. By the time of Athelstan's capture in Wessex, he has also become the foremost expert of Saxon blood on the Norsemen, their culture, and paganism in general. And while living there, he also acquires knowledge of Roman battle tactics for good measures.
  • Smart People Play Chess: King Horik and Ragnar play Hnefatafl while discussing future plans.
  • Snake Pit: King Aelle uses a pit of venomous snakes to execute capital punishment.
  • Snow Means Death: Siggy drowns in the winter, with snow falling all around her.
  • Somewhere, a Herpetologist Is Crying: King Aelle's pit of venomous snakes is actually filled with non-venomous and non-indigenous pythons. Of course, this is probably intentional since how many actors would be willing to handle unpredictable, bad-tempered, and very venomous snakes just for the sake of realism and a single scene? Yeah, not many...
  • Stealth Pun: Given how many people wouldn't recognize it. When Ragnar says "when the little pig teaches the boar how to listen," he wasn't calling himself a pervert. The boar is the symbol of the fertility God Frey. Given the scene right before the quote is said, he's saying he's still horny, thus why Lagertha shoves him.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Even though she had already refused his proposal, Count Odo clearly hopes to win Princess Gisla's hand after successfully repealing the Viking attack on Paris. When he personally asks her about this, Gisla refuses to give a clear answer and only ensures him that she will be deeply grateful if he indeed manages to defend the city from invaders.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Athelstan's respect and affection for Ragnar's family grows over time in spite of the fact that Ragnar violently enslaved him. However, part of the reason Athelstan sticks around is because Ragnar treats him well and he has nowhere else to go. By season 2, he feels like a part of the family, and Ragnar's family feels the same way.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Invoked heavily in the promotion for season 1. In season 2, before the climactic battle, Aslaug and Lagertha notices storm clouds gathering over Kattegat and state, "The gods are coming."note 
  • Television Geography: The animated Scenery Porn Establishing Shot of Uppsala displays the settlement on a mountain. Real Life Uppsala is located on a plain, the only nearby elevations being some burial mounds; appropriately from the Viking Age.
  • A Threesome Is Hot:
    • Norsemen seem curiously fond of double-teaming their women. Ragnar and Lagertha invite Athelstan to join them in bed. Later, Floki invites another of Ragnar's raiders to bed with him and Helga. Jarl Borg recalls sharing women with his brother.
    • Ragnar tries to get Lagertha to agree to a three-way marriage arrangement with Aslaug, but gets soundly rejected before he can even hint at a threesome. A scene in Season 2 showing Ragnar waking up next to a naked Aslaug and Lagertha would have implied some Three-Way Sex, but it was deleted.
  • Timeshifted Actor: In Season 1, Ragnar's son Bjorn was played by Nathan O'Toole but will also be played by older actor Alexander Ludwig in Season 2.
  • Time Skip: Four years passes between Episodes 1 and 2 of the second season. There are also shorter time skips several times throughout the series, so each season spans about a year or two.
  • To Be Lawful or Good; By law, Ragnar must obey Earl Haraldson and sail east to Rape, Pillage, and Burn. However, he believes that he should do the right thing and sail west to Rape, Pillage, and Burn. He goes to a seer for advice on what to do and the seer tells him that if he can gain the favour of the gods, they will override the laws for him. Ragnar seems to interpret this to mean that if he is highly successful in his endeavor, the Earl will not be able to successfully punish him for disobedience.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Rollo is teased as this. He supports and follows Ragnar, but he's a rapist, hits on his brother's wife (even after she rebuffs him multiple times), and resents Ragnar's successes. His most redeeming quality is his Undying Loyalty through multiple opportunities to betray Ragnar. He succumbs when Jarl Borg subverts him to his cause, but Rollo can't bear to fight his brother, and so throws down his weapon before him. He then willingly submits to justice and shows true remorse over his actions. In other words, this trope is subverted.
  • Token Good Teammate: Athelstan is the only completely moral, kind, and non-murderous hero, though he's also the most naďve. He even shows respect and great interest in the Norsemen's religion despite being a devout Catholic priest. As he immerses himself in their way of living however, his virtue begins to dim as he finds himself torn between the humble Christian scholar and the savage Viking raider.
    Lagertha: Then you are still innocent. It does not seem to matter how many experiences you have, Athelstan. In the end, you are still like the young monk I first met.
  • Too Dumb to Live: King Aelle's brother. At first he seems competent enough, refusing to fight the norsemen where they have the advantage, but then he fails to put sentries around his camp; when the Vikings attack that night, Aelle's brother starts praying instead of going out to fight, and by the time he's done his entire force has been defeated.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Gyda, Ragnar's only daughter, died when the plague hits Kattegat.
    • Athelstan arguably qualifies as this, having been reborn into Christianity before his death in Born Again.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Athelstan in the second season is brave and combat-trained enough to prove himself in battle and is accepted as a thane.
  • Torture Cellar: Count Odo has one, where he likes to chain and whip women. The women are so eager for his favor, however, that they endure it willingly.
  • Tranquil Fury: Ragnar often couples this with Dissonant Serenity when pushed far enough - the situations in which he is personally involved with killing any major character serve to be a reminder that even though he doesn't resort to violence to solve his problems right away, he can be twenty times more merciless than everyone around him when he wants to be.
  • Translation Convention: Norse and Old English are usually presented in modern English. When Vikings meet Englishmen, one or both languages may be subtitled.
  • Triang Relations:
    • Rollo is this to both Ragnar and his wife, Lagertha, as well is the Earl and his wife.
    • Ragnar has this with Lagertha and Aslaug.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Haraldson's beautiful young daughter is married to an old and ugly Swedish Earl. Until she annuls it with a stabbing.
  • Undignified Death: Earl Haraldson's sons are brutally murdered their heads cut off and set against their backside, and left in a shallow grave as a sign of disrespect for their father.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Ragnar tends to keep his plans from others and the viewer, and most of his plans succeed.
    • His plan to betray Jarl Borg goes off without a hitch. Up until the betrayal springs, it's not clear what Ragnar is plotting.
    • Averted with his plan to have Athelstan sacrificed. Athelstan proclaims his Christianity at the last moment, precluding him from sacrifice. One of Ragnar's strongest warriors volunteers instead.
    • His plans to betray Jarl Borg and King Horik are both sprung before the viewer becomes aware of them.
    • In season 3, he plan to fake his death and use his funeral to kidnap a member of the royal family to open Paris's gates is kept from the audience as well as all of his closest confidants except his son.
  • Warrior Poet: Rollo chants a poem on the inevitability of death to lend courage and resolve to his shield-brothers during a battle with the Saxons. Ragnar quotes the Rúnatal — the story of how Odin won the runes as given in the Hávamál. Historically, the Norse viewed poems and sagas to be very manly.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The second teaser trailer places the characters under the world tree Yggdrasil and is so full of references to Norse Mythology that one could make a competition out of naming the most. Ragnar is Odin, Aslaug is Freyja, Lagertha is a valkyrie, Athelstan is Tyr, King Ecbert is Fenrir, King Horik is Jörmungandr, Floki is Heimdal, Siggy is Sigyn, and Rollo is Loki. The red rooster is Fjalar and the deer is Dain. The tattoo on Rollo's left arm is of Sköll, the son of Fenrir that chases the sun. Sköll means "Treachery".
  • Viking Funeral: Episode 6 has an example, taken almost entirely out of Ahmed Ibn Fadlan's account of the Rus.
  • The Watson: As an outsider, Athelstan receives a lot of exposition about Norse society and culture.
  • We Can Rule Together: The Earl offers to make Rollo his son-in-law and thus presumed heir in exchange for Rollo testifying against Ragnar at trial. Rollo is certainly tempted to take the offer, but in the end supports Ragnar.
  • Wham Episode: The show was going fairly smoothly with the tension slowly rising... until "Raid": Earl Haraldson burns down Ragnar's farm and drives him into hiding, captures and tortures Rollo, and marries his daughter off to a Swedish Earl. A good five or six months go by while the characters heal from the damage.
    • Season 3's Born Again has the reveal that Ecbert isn't as friendly as he's presenting himself to be, with him ordering Aethelwulf to kill everyone at the Viking settlement. In Kattegat, Athelstan's dies at Floki's hands.
  • What Beautiful Eyes: Ragnar's Icy Blue Eyes.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Floki criticizes Rollo for allowing himself to be baptized by Christians, regardless of the fact that Rollo does it only as a ruse.
  • Women Are Delicate: Of those attending the blood eagle, all of the women except Lagertha, the shieldmaiden, either turn away or faint.
  • World of Badass: It's a show about Vikings!
  • Worthy Opponent: Earl Haraldson reveals that he likes Ragnar and that Ragnar is not much different from how the Earl was in his youth. However, due to Viking politics, the Earl cannot allow Ragnar to succeed since it would erode the Earl's power base and he cannot trust Ragnar not to try to usurp him. Ragnar sees Haraldson in a similar manner.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Most Viking raiders rape whatever Englishwomen they can find. Lagertha's second husband abuses her, to his peril.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: We never see Ragnar abuse any women, in contrast to many other Vikings. He spares Siggy's life and says nothing when Rollo marries her and Lagertha allows her into his household. When he discovers an English girl hiding from his raiders, he helps conceal her from them. In the finale of Season 1, he seems to consider it briefly when he goes to Aslaug's sleeping quarter with a knife, but leaves her unharmed in the end.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Earl Haraldson has Svein kill a 13-year-old boy so as to protect the Earl's treasures in the afterlife.
    Haraldson: You've seen enough of this life, boy.
    • Ragnar has Horik's entire family killed, including his many young daughters.
    • Aethelwulf and his men slaughter everyone at the Viking settlement in Wessex, and there are semi-graphic deaths of a girl being trampled by horses and a boy seeming to escape the raid only to be shot by an archer.
  • Zip Me Up: The necklace variation of this trope plays out between King Ecbert and Lagertha, in which the former gifts a necklace to the latter and carefully fastens it around her neck (taking the opportunity to touch her hair while he's at it).

"Each must die someday."